Government simplifies aid form

College applicants and families who are applying for federal financial assistance for the 2010-2011 academic year will use a revised FAFSA form, designed to give more students access to a college education by simplifying the application process.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said at a press conference Jan. 5 that students gave up filing the former FAFSA because it was too complicated, and that debate over how to simplify the form had been going on for two decades.

Although 20 million students fill out the FAFSA annually, an estimated 1.5 million low-income students do not apply for federal aid despite being eligible, according to a USA Today report.

While promoting the revised form at Banneker Senior High school near Howard University, Duncan said, “The FAFSA form is no longer an impediment for students going to college.”

But GW’s Director of Student Financial Assistance Daniel Small questioned if the forms are oversimplified.

“We want to be sure we are fair and consistent in determining each student’s eligibility for financial assistance and at this point wonder if the streamlined forms will give a good overview of an applicant’s financial status,” Small said in an e-mail.

Small does not expect a significant increase in financial aid applicants to result from the revised form.

“The hope is with fewer questions it will encourage students and parents to follow through with the application. Students who have a financial concern about enrolling at GW will take the necessary steps,” he said in an e-mail.

The changes to the FAFSA, used to predict a family’s annual tuition contribution and eligibility for need-based aid, are largely technology-based. The new application omits questions that do not apply to certain students based on their answers to preceding questions. In the past, the online FAFSA consisted of 29 screens, some of which were not applicable to each student but had to be navigated anyway, according to USA Today.

Later this month, the new online form will feature tax data importation, so that families do not have to retype information that they have already submitted to the IRS.

Ninety percent of students who fill out the FAFSA do so online, according to USA Today. Other updates include color-coded student and parent sections, an accessible help section, and links to more information on their schools of interest.

Congress is also considering a proposal to omit more questions, allowing families to apply for aid using only information they provide on tax returns.

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